The Silver Year: L’Epilogue est Sans Issue

L'Epilogue est Sans Issue

 

I watch​​ her. She​​ commands​​ the bar with the stoicism of a field surgeon and the grace of an ice dancer.

“Whadda​​ you​​ want?”​​ She​​ mentally notates each answer with a nod, sawing​​ down the front line of patrons as one bites​​ corn​​ off​​ a​​ cob, mercilessly bypassing​​ any​​ kernels​​ with drink orders​​ unready.​​ Her hands move with​​ deeply​​ satisfying rhythm and​​ automation. In one,​​ a​​ cocktail​​ shaker pumps, in the other, a bottle tips to a​​ wanting​​ line of shot​​ glasses.​​ She​​ chews off three more drink​​ orders​​ in the process, keeping tally of the beers filling under​​ the​​ taps​​ behind her, then with balletic bravado, she cracks​​ the shaker​​ over two​​ glasses,​​ pirouettes to stop​​ the​​ three running​​ taps,​​ and​​ returns with four totals for​​ eleven drinks.

“Sixteen . . . twenty-four-fifty . . . forty-two . . . twenty-one-seventy-five.”

As the​​ front​​ line of​​ patrons procure​​ payment, she​​ tops off the beers,​​ delivers them​​ to the bar, and​​ begins​​ the process​​ all over again with the line​​ behind them.​​ She never stops. The whole night is her ballet, battle,​​ and opera.​​ They say true multitasking is impossible, but Jade​​ has​​ made a perfection of faking it. It’s a shame no one​​ sees her brilliance​​ the way I do—not​​ even she,​​ so I’m documenting it here, hoping for perpetuity.​​ In fact, everyone​​ I’ve​​ documented​​ here is​​ a hope for perpetuity,​​ but​​ especially you.​​ 

I’m sorry. I still find myself talking to you.​​ I’m still adjusting to​​ a​​ reality​​ where I can’t do that.​​ It’s like​​ reading​​ a good book​​ and​​ never knowing the ending, or maybe it just feels that way because​​ I didn’t​​ see the end coming.​​ Our​​ brief​​ time together​​ seemed to​​ pass​​ so​​ quickly​​ while in it, yet​​ it​​ feels eternal​​ now from the​​ effect.

Time is funny like that;​​ always​​ misleading​​ and​​ never moving in the​​ way​​ we​​ remember​​ it. But​​ as Proust said, time is elastic, and​​ as an almost​​ outside observer​​ of my life​​ now,​​ I​​ can​​ see​​ he was correct.​​ Nothing​​ made time move faster than habit and nothing​​ held​​ it​​ down​​ like novelty. The reason being,​​ novelty always involves at​​ least some​​ discomfort, but discomfort is​​ key to waking up memory,​​ the​​ ultimate arbiter of time.​​ However,​​ the more novelty you seek, the less you notice this discomfort because overtime novelty builds up an immunity​​ to​​ unjustified fear, usually​​ the source of novelty’s discomfort, and acts as a vaccine so to speak. And​​ from the looks of things lately,​​ humanity​​ could use a vaccine.

Speaking of that,​​ the​​ newscasts have been apocalyptic​​ lately. It’s been raining in Southern California for three days and every television screen at the bar is filled with images of the deluge​​ now that the sports games are over.​​ Floods, mudslides, power outages,​​ idiots in cars being swept away at​​ water crossings;​​ I​​ pretend to watch, but my mind is elsewhere.

Fortunately these days I don’t get noticed here too often. Then again, I don’t look much like myself these days either. Over time I guess people have just gotten used to me sitting in this corner by the trivia machine, sipping wine—the last of the spirits I haven’t made enemies with,​​ documenting their sordid romances and tragedies into my notebook. I’ve sort of become one with the old trinkets adorning the walls. Every now and then somebody finds me novel, but for the most part I’m free to be the surveying ghost I always wanted to be.

I think this bar is what I’m going to miss the most​​ when I’m gone.​​ I know that sounds alcoholic, but Perqs has been my​​ only place of novelty​​ during​​ my years of​​ mostly​​ habit—not out of choice of course.​​ I​​ also​​ see​​ why​​ it​​ was so special to you: one of two buildings left on Main Street over a hundred years old, forty of which it served as a brothel; you always did like a place with history.​​ The real value,​​ however,​​ is​​ the​​ people and​​ stories on display every night​​ here, many of​​ whom and​​ which I’ve​​ borrowed for​​ our story.

I only say “our story” because so much of your story has become mine​​ now, and​​ I’m not sure if I’m ready​​ to be alone again​​ yet.​​ I always asked​​ you​​ if you thought I was going crazy, and you always reassured me, “only in the​​ most lucid way.”​​ But​​ now that​​ this last remnant of you​​ is​​ going to be​​ gone, who’s going to be around to substantiate that?​​ You’ve become​​ so​​ fixed​​ in​​ my imagination​​ I’m beginning​​ to question​​ if any of it​​ really​​ happened at all.​​ But I’ve got to move on.​​ I’ve got to​​ leave you in this locket of time,​​ because unlike you,​​ I’m still​​ in​​ its​​ current, and​​ ultimately​​ only death can cease it.​​ 

But so can a great story—at least for a little​​ while.​​ 

So as the love of your life—simply because you had no others,​​ I’ve now done my due diligence​​ in making​​ sure the world​​ remembers​​ Walter Huxley.​​ Because if there is any practical purpose for love, it’s having someone who can tell your story—or​​ in my case,​​ finish the ending, the ending I took away from you​​ that fateful​​ early​​ Christmas​​ morning.​​ I never did get to hear that second verse before you​​ fell backwards and broke your neck.

But if it’s any consolation,​​ the guilt of​​ accidently​​ taking your life​​ stopped me from taking my own. Little did you know​​ how close​​ to suicide​​ I​​ actually​​ was​​ when I met you.​​ But​​ learning about the​​ incredible​​ life I had taken​​ not only​​ helped me find the​​ worth in mine,​​ it​​ gave me the inspiration to​​ finally​​ do​​ something with it, and for that​​ you​​ will​​ always be the greatest love of my life Walter Huxley—but also simply because​​ I had​​ no others. I didn’t have enough time.

Although we​​ only​​ met​​ a mere few seconds in this​​ existence,​​ I hope​​ we​​ can​​ really​​ fall in love​​ in another.​​ I guess I’ll find out soon​​ mon coup de foudre.

Love,

Amber​​ ;-)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 0

Chapter​​ 0

The Fool

 

Shiva tried to sleep, but​​ the​​ sound​​ of​​ whips and​​ paddles​​ working​​ Mags’s willing victim on the other side of the wall​​ made it impossible.​​ She​​ turned up​​ the rain track in​​ her headphones and curled into​​ a​​ tiny​​ ball on​​ a​​ tiny bed in her tiny room. Her room was​​ a poorly-converted​​ crawlspace in the back of a walk-in​​ closet.​​ Photos and other relics of her travels covered gaps in the drywall;​​ the​​ rafters​​ laid​​ bare, insulation, partially-exposed, but it was home when she needed it,​​ which​​ after being forced out of her beloved houseboat a month earlier, felt frequent.​​ Every part​​ of​​ her​​ new​​ home​​ besides this room​​ was​​ shared with​​ strangers.

La Lune Rouge​​ served as sort of a halfway house for trafficked​​ girls, providing a safehouse​​ for them​​ to​​ make money​​ on their own term’s​​ outside​​ their​​ loverboy’s eyes, either while still under their control or after being freed.​​ Below​​ Mags and Shiva’s top floor​​ “lair​​ suite”​​ were six floors of eighteen rent-free bedrooms, a piano bar, and an underground cabaret lounge where​​ the girls​​ could​​ also express themselves creatively in​​ La Lune Rouge’s​​ nightly, all-night​​ cabaret show,​​ Hell, made up mostly​​ of​​ formerly​​ trafficked persons. ​​ 

Being a Parisian-style cabaret show​​ in Amsterdam​​ below a speakeasy-style piano bar, the​​ Hell​​ show​​ had​​ become​​ wildly popular​​ with locals,​​ but also their​​ most​​ highly-guarded secret,​​ hence​​ the​​ zero online presence​​ and its unwelcoming locality.​​ And while the police​​ were​​ aware​​ of the​​ questionable activities in the rooms above, the police chief was one of Mags’s best clients​​ and​​ the​​ department​​ just​​ had one of its biggest trafficking​​ busts because of​​ their​​ help.​​ 

Shiva​​ turned on​​ a​​ dim light​​ overhead​​ and​​ switched to​​ music. Her​​ mother’s favorite,​​ Il dolce suono,​​ from​​ Lucia di Lammermoor​​ struck like electric equanimity.​​ Tragic operas​​ always​​ made​​ Shiva​​ happier.

Before the disease,​​ her​​ mother​​ had aspirations​​ to be an opera singer, but​​ like her fleeting interests in poetry, photography, and painting, she​​ never could commit.​​ She​​ wasn’t​​ really the commitment type. Neither of her parents​​ were​​ being​​ longtime​​ swingers​​ before they were parents. But still,​​ even when her mother’s sickness​​ was​​ at​​ its​​ worst​​ and​​ she was​​ not​​ at all​​ pleasant to be around,​​ Shiva had​​ never seen two people​​ who loved each other more, a love she​​ greatly starved for​​ but​​ simply didn’t have the​​ time​​ to find.​​ Love is not easy​​ when​​ your life is​​ so​​ limited and​​ it​​ means damning​​ someone else to​​ your​​ curse.​​ 

Although her parents never said it, Shiva​​ knew she never​​ would have​​ existed​​ had​​ they​​ known about the disease​​ before conceiving.​​ No parent wants to damn their offspring​​ no less than​​ they​​ want to damn their lover.​​ This​​ was​​ why​​ she​​ had​​ decided​​ long ago​​ art was​​ a​​ better place to put her heart​​ than love​​ and children.​​ There it wouldn’t be damning anyone.​​ That is until she met​​ Mags, or “Queen Kali” as she called herself at the time.​​ Mags​​ was already damned. She too was​​ living with a lurking killer she’d inherited from her mother, ALS.

“That’s why​​ it couldn’t have​​ seemed​​ more aligned,”​​ Shiva said to​​ her mother’s​​ tarot deck. “I had just​​ lost​​ luna hunny and my heart was empty, and right when I needed​​ it,​​ right​​ after​​ I​​ ‘passed​​ through the eye of insanity’,​​ the perfect​​ love found me.​​ But​​ love isn’t supposed to be perfect. I know​​ that​​ now because divine love visited me last night and its timing couldn’t have been worse, yet​​ exactly what I needed.​​ But​​ now I’ve lost it and I need your help finding it​​ again.​​ After all​​ Mom, I believe​​ it was you who brought me it in the first place. How else can​​ I​​ explain it?”

Shiva​​ always​​ spoke to her mom​​ as if she were praying and always had the Ace of Cups in her hands when she did. But today her Ace of Cups was missing, so it was the full tarot deck instead.

Her​​ mother had​​ bequeathed​​ her​​ the​​ Ace of Cups​​ along with the deck in her​​ suicide note,​​ left with her​​ will and​​ written long before she lost her mind,​​ body, and life​​ completely.​​ She wrote it​​ during​​ her​​ pregnancy after​​ discovering​​ her unborn daughter​​ had a fifty percent chance​​ of inheriting​​ her curse, and written in the event she did.​​ 

When I’m not there,​​ let this card be a reminder I still am, the note said​​ about the Ace of Cups.​​ It​​ represents​​ the love and curse​​ that connects us,​​ a​​ connection​​ that goes much further than​​ just mother and daughter,​​ and​​ one that​​ reaches far​​ beyond​​ Earth.​​ Let it also be a reminder​​ of the​​ chalice in you​​ that​​ deserves to be filled.​​ You may be cursed, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have gifts​​ for​​ this world and don’t​​ deserve​​ to know​​ divine​​ love​​ before you leave it. And I promise you will​​ know​​ it​​ before we see each other again.​​ I’m​​ just​​ leaving you for now​​ before I​​ become something other than your mother. Thats​​ what’s​​ so horrible about our curse; it hollows you out while you’re still living and not only robs you of your​​ mind​​ and​​ body,​​ but​​ replaces​​ you​​ with a crippled demon.​​ I want to​​ be​​ remembered​​ as your mother, not a demon.

None of this will make sense to you right now​​ and you’re probably very confused and hurt, but​​ divine love always looks like certain madness in the beginning.​​ Peace isn’t sewn without passing through the eye of insanity first.​​ However,​​ after you do,​​ divine love​​ will​​ find you,​​ and​​ that’s​​ also​​ when you’ll​​ know​​ the divine love I​​ always​​ had for you.​​ 

Shiva​​ took the deck out of the case and began shuffling, then placed two cards on top of each other in a cross formation, a simple problem-answer formation. First was her problem. She flipped it:​​ the Death card​​ again. She flipped the next one.​​ It was impossible.​​ The Ace of Cups.​​ Where had​​ it come from​​ if it wasn’t with Walter?

The closet door​​ then​​ opened and blue light from the bedroom​​ oozed​​ in.​​ Shiva​​ put the Ace of Cups card in her nightgown pocket, then put the rest of the cards away. She then crawled out​​ of​​ her crawlspace.

 

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 7

Chapter​​ 7

A Boy at Heart

 

APRIL​​ 2012

 

“What stays with you most from that day?”​​ she asked​​ sitting on the sofa across from​​ him, pen​​ circling her open​​ notebook.

“It wasn’t seeing him dead,”​​ Walter​​ said.​​ “In fact,​​ he looked quite peaceful.” Her pen began​​ scratching​​ at the pace of his speech across the page. “He​​ even had​​ this​​ smile on his face​​ . . . It was when they put him in a body bag.​​ That faceless bundle of flesh and bone will haunt me forever.​​ It’s amazing the​​ guilt you suddenly feel for being alive when face-to-face with someone who no longer has that privilege.”

“That’s a strange thing to say. Why would you feel guilt?”

“I wasn’t always the nicest to​​ Brian.”

“You two didn’t get along?”

“Hardly ever.”

“Why was that?”

“I suppose egos got in the way. We just didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things.”

“When was the last time you saw him alive?”

“Um…” Walter’s fingers unthinkingly began to fidget in an effort to fight his natural urge to always tell the truth​​ even when he didn’t have to, “...on the bus.”

“The bus he died on?”

“Yes.”

“What were​​ your last​​ moments​​ like​​ with​​ him?”

Walter’s heart began racing and his stomach tightened. “I... I... I...” He stalled. “Do I have to tell you?”

Her​​ bucktooth grin flashed beneath her​​ bulging,​​ chipmunk-like cheeks,​​ making​​ her button nose​​ crinkle​​ adorably​​ between her doting, big,​​ brown eyes.​​ Maybe it was​​ the​​ disarming​​ English accent, but​​ somehow she’d​​ become his closest counselor and was pulling things out of him that had long been sewn up, when only an hour earlier, she’d been nothing but a stranger—well not exactly. Francis Jones was​​ Rolling Stone’s foremost​​ reporter, and there was a reason why.

“You don’t have to say anything you​​ don’t want to,”​​ Francis​​ said.​​ “This is your story. Not Quinn Quark’s, Cirkus’s,​​ or anyone else’s. Remember, you reached out to me, and no one knows about this interview but us. It’s just us​​ . . . But, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask. A lot of people want to know what happened that night.”

“And so​​ would I, but I was pretty gone that night myself . . .​​ Um…​​ you mind?”​​ Walter​​ said eyeing a bottle of Jameson​​ and an​​ ice bucket​​ filled with mixers​​ on the coffee table.

“Go ahead, that’s why it’s there.” She flashed​​ him​​ another​​ grin.​​ He poured himself a drink,​​ then leaned back in​​ his​​ armchair.

The​​ tranquil​​ glow of​​ Francis’s​​ living room​​ fireplace​​ was​​ dangerously​​ homey,​​ a feeling he hadn’t felt in​​ some time.​​ Although the label​​ had given him some money to get by,​​ it was nowhere near enough to get him out of Grandma’s,​​ which​​ was becoming more of a prison than a home​​ lately. Day and night,​​ growing​​ multitudes​​ of​​ paparazzi​​ and other bounty hunters of fame​​ stalked​​ the​​ front​​ door, so​​ Walter​​ had to​​ stay​​ holed up inside, unless of course he found the strength to endure their​​ legally-protected harassing.​​ 

Cirkus’s announcement of​​ the​​ live​​ show​​ and record​​ had​​ made​​ Walter’s​​ fame​​ (aka Quinn Quark)​​ balloon​​ even​​ greater,​​ thanks​​ in​​ large​​ part​​ to Lola’s shrewd​​ peddling.​​ Unbeknownst to​​ him,​​ his​​ emotional​​ soundcheck​​ performance of “See The Sky About To Rain”​​ had been filmed and recorded, and with no single or music video to use​​ for​​ promotion,​​ Lola instead​​ pushed​​ the video—one tight shot of Walter’s​​ genital-swelling​​ face rolling through the emotions of the song​​ until climaxing in​​ a money shot of tears.

Being that it was​​ recorded​​ on the day of​​ Quinn Quark’s​​ infamous last​​ performance,​​ the video​​ circulated quickly and soon became​​ a​​ viral​​ hit​​ among rock and indie circles. Cirkus was quick to respond, releasing the cover as a single, and soon the punk-leaning label had their first top-ten​​ U.S. hit once the video and Walter’s face made it into the general public’s circles and genitals. The​​ swelling was all​​ anyone​​ could talk about.​​ And although the song was labeled rock n’ roll​​ and Quinn Quark a rock star, it was not, and he was not.​​ America didn’t actually still like rock n’ roll,​​ but rock stars​​ were​​ like cowboys​​ to Americans,​​ mythologized​​ clichés​​ they loved​​ to resurrect over and over again.

Walter set​​ down​​ his drink and cleared his throat.​​ “While it​​ does​​ feel​​ good​​ to finally talk about​​ Squids’s death,”​​ he​​ said,​​ “I’m not sure this is the right venue. I’m sorry. I hope you understand.”

“Of course,”​​ Francis​​ said, however, there was​​ a​​ pinch​​ of exasperation on​​ her​​ face.​​ “How about something easy then?​​ What’s your favorite color?”

“Gamma ray.”​​ He​​ smirked.

“What?”

“Sorry,​​ bad physics joke. I guess gray, but that might change with my mood.”

“Favorite holiday?”

“Halloween.”

“Least favorite holiday?”

“Christmas.”

“Christmas? Who doesn’t​​ like Christmas?”​​ 

“How about the non-Christian world? But my reasons are different. Let’s just move on.”

“Okay...” Francis said turning​​ a​​ page​​ in​​ her notebook​​ .​​ . . How’s​​ rehearsal​​ going?​​ How’s it been​​ working​​ with​​ Jason Newsted?”

“Rehearsals are going great actually. It just feels great to be playing with a band again. I didn’t realize how much I missed it.​​ It’s like not having sex.​​ And Jason, oh man, it’s​​ like a whole​​ new​​ sex​​ now that​​ we​​ have a bassist who can​​ actually​​ play—um,​​ fuck.​​ I didn’t​​ mean to​​ say that. I’m sorry.”

You’re​​ fine.” Francis stopped scribing, surrendering her pen to the air as if she were a captured soldier surrendering a sword. “I can leave​​ it​​ out—I can leave anything out. Remember, this is a magazine interview, not a live interview, so​​ you​​ can relax​​ if you​​ slip up​​ now and then.​​ 

That was nice to hear, Walter thought. He didn’t have to be perfect. He wasn’t​​ onstage with thousands of eyes​​ stalking​​ him, just two big brown ones​​ like​​ glossy​​ eyes​​ of a beloved​​ Teddy bear. Her face quelled something in him like cutesy cartoon forest animals can do.

“Thanks,”​​ he said. “What I​​ meant​​ was, everyone in the band has nothing but the upmost respect for him, and it’s inspiring to be playing with someone of his caliber.

“So is there a possibility​​ we might see this lineup perform again after​​ the​​ Greek?”

“No. Let’s make that perfectly clear.​​ N-O. There will be no Perfect Crime or Quinn Quark after this show.”

“But what about your unreleased album,​​ Love Songs in a Minor Crash?”

“I never finished it. And the songs I had, they​​ weren’t​​ right for Perfect Crime.”

“But right for a solo project perhaps?”

“Yes,​​ actually.​​ Something completely​​ new​​ for me​​ though.”

“Really?” Francis said repositioning herself, pen ready to transcribe​​ again.​​ “What kind of sound is this new project?”​​ 

“Silence.”​​ Francis’s​​ eyes hung on​​ Walter​​ for further explanation, but he just smiled.

“I’m sorry,” she said,​​ “but​​ I’m not understanding.”​​ 

“It’s a novel. I’m writing a novel.”

“A​​ novel?” She looked to be reshuffling notes in her head.​​ “Why?”

“I suppose I like the privacy of it.​​ With a novel, my​​ physical image​​ doesn’t have to be packaged alongside my art.​​ I​​ also​​ don’t have​​ to relive​​ the emotions​​ of​​ my art night after night​​ on tour​​ for years on end.”

“That’s​​ surprising to hear from someone who seemingly​​ enjoyed the stage very much at one point. Did​​ Squids’s death spur this change?”

“Partially, but​​ not​​ fully.”

“Is the​​ novel​​ related to​​ his death?”​​ 

“No, and again, I don’t want to talk about his death.”

“Then what’s it about?”​​ 

“Uh…​​ well, death,​​ life,​​ love, existence—all the typical stuff,”​​ Walter fibbed.​​ So far​​ his​​ novel​​ was about nothing, because beside his​​ lacquered piece of shit he’d torn to bits, he’d written nothing.

“Care to expound​​ a​​ little more?”​​ Francis’s​​ pen​​ rapped​​ frustratedly​​ against her notebook.

“I guess you could also say it’s​​ a revue​​ of sorts, featuring​​ all​​ the women​​ who have shaped​​ me, good and bad.”

“Past lovers?”

“Some.”

“Can you tell me about them? Your love life is something of a mystery to most people.”

“There’s a reason,​​ and I don’t want to talk about it.”

“All right.” Francis’s pen rapped harder. “Are​​ you​​ currently seeing anyone?”

“I just said I don’t want to talk about my love life. But if the teeny boppers must know, yes I’m single, but nowhere​​ near​​ ready to mingle, and especially not with them.”

“So those rumors of​​ numerous​​ love affairs on the road aren’t true?”

“What? That I​​ enjoyed a few nights with​​ a​​ select​​ handful of of-age and fully consenting women? Yes, I enjoyed myself a little. Anyone would’ve have after what I went through.”

“What did you​​ go through?”

“No.​​ We’re not going there either.”

Francis’s button nose crinkled​​ sharply​​ and her lips pursed into a taut circle. She then​​ slapped her pen​​ onto​​ the coffee table and threw her notebook to the side.

“Okay Mister Huxley,” she said, “well,​​ where do you want to go, because I’m not having much luck driving?”

“Anywhere, just not my past.”

“Fine...” she said picking up her pen and notebook again, “...let’s talk about the future. This novel you’re working on, when can​​ we expect it?”

“Sometime,” Walter said,​​ “but you won’t​​ know because​​ I’m releasing it under​​ a​​ penname.”

“Why​​ is that?”

“Because the​​ book​​ can’t make it on the back​​ of​​ my music career.​​ I couldn’t​​ take myself seriously​​ as a writer​​ if​​ it​​ did.​​ That’s why people can’t know I wrote it.”

“So will anyone ever know​​ the author’s true identity?”

“God, I hope not. All I want is to disappear into​​ obscurity after this​​ farewell​​ show.”​​ 

Francis sighed​​ sympathetically​​ as​​ her demeanor shifted gears.​​ “That’s​​ a shame​​ you want to disappear from the world,” she said,​​ “because the world​​ really​​ seems​​ to​​ like you​​ Walter.​​ A​​ lot of great things​​ are​​ being said.​​ Some​​ have​​ even called​​ you​​ genius.”

“Genius? I’m a rock musician, that’s all.​​ If what I​​ have​​ is genius, then genius​​ is​​ much more an exercise than​​ a​​ gift.”

“I see . . . Excuse me,”​​ she​​ said​​ setting down her notebook​​ and pen again​​ and removing​​ her Stanford University sweater. Walter’s​​ eyes couldn’t help but say hello to the​​ cupfuls of breast​​ now​​ peeking​​ out​​ over​​ her​​ red​​ tank top.​​ He was trying his best to​​ not​​ sexualize his interviewer, but​​ nature isn’t​​ always​​ honorable​​ amongst cutesy forest animals.​​ 

“The fireplace,” she said,​​ “it’s kind of making things warm.”

“Well,​​ April isn’t​​ the most ideal​​ fireplace​​ weather.”

“I know...” she said, aware of his eyes as she​​ bent​​ over to​​ pick​​ up a​​ thick​​ binder from the floor, “…but​​ I just love fireside chats. It always brings out the best conversations.”​​ She opened the binder​​ across her lap.​​ “I hope you don’t mind​​ if we revisit your past again briefly,” she​​ said while thumbing through​​ its​​ many plastic-sheathed pages,​​ “but​​ I​​ spoke​​ to​​ a few of your​​ professors​​ at UCLA,​​ and​​ while​​ yes,​​ some in the music press have called you​​ genius, I​​ actually​​ heard​​ the​​ designation​​ much more​​ often​​ from​​ them​​ in regards​​ to​​ your work in physics.”

“Physics? I was​​ a​​ C-average physics student.”

“Yes,​​ but only in your junior and senior years. Before that you were the​​ most promising physics student the department had seen in some time, so much so you were​​ given​​ a full-ride scholarship—unprecedented for an incoming​​ freshman.​​ That’s why although many​​ of your professors​​ describe you as​​ genius, they also deride you as being…”​​ ​​ She​​ began reading​​ from​​ the binder:​​ “...‘arrogant’​​ . . . ‘lazy’​​ . . . ‘immature’ . . .​​ ‘ungrateful’,​​ and my personal favorite, ‘disproportioned​​ in​​ blood flow between​​ his​​ brain and penis.’”

“That last one​​ was​​ from Schechter,​​ wasn’t it?” Walter​​ asked.

“Yes. He actually had the most to say about you. He even showed me your papers, and while he admitted there was​​ a lot wrong with​​ them, he seemed to think…”​​ She​​ read from​​ her notes​​ again:​​ “…‘They’re the type of creative​​ genius​​ of someone​​ who could​​ revolutionize physics.’”

“So, what does​​ Schechter​​ know?​​ He was a great teacher, but a failed theorist himself.​​ A whole life wasted chasing dead-end theories. I’m sorry, but I didn’t​​ want to end up like him. He’s gone so crazy now​​ he’s trying to convince naive journalists who haven’t the slightest clue about theoretical physics what’s going to revolutionize it.​​ Probably because they’re the only ones who will take him seriously now.”

“You​​ don’t have to be condescending,”​​ Francis​​ said.

“Condescending? Okay, what’s the uncertainty principle?”​​ Walter asked.​​ She​​ shrugged.​​ “See,​​ naïve journalist who doesn’t​​ know shit​​ about physics.​​ Not condescending,​​ just​​ the truth.”

“But still,​​ you don’t have to be​​ a...”​​ She tried to come up with a​​ polite​​ rebuttal, but went blank.​​ 

“What?” Walter continued​​ his charge.​​ “An asshole? Is that what you want to call me? Go ahead, but you’re the real asshole here.​​ This entire interview you’ve been trying​​ to​​ trap me​​ because​​ you​​ thought​​ by putting together some extensive book report on my life you’d​​ know it better than​​ me.​​ And by the way, just because​​ I’m​​ famous​​ now,​​ that​​ doesn’t mean you have an all-access​​ pass to riffle through my past—”

“Actually it does,” she interrupted.​​ “Maybe I don’t know​​ ‘shit about physics’,​​ but​​ I do know​​ shit​​ about media law.”​​ 

“Well, whatever.​​ I’m done​​ here.” He stood from his chair and​​ walked​​ toward the door. “If you think you’re going to prod any more information​​ out of​​ me you’re nuts.”

Seriously?” she said. “You asked​​ me​​ for this interview.​​ I thought you wanted to introduce​​ the ‘real you’ to the world? How am I supposed to do that when you won’t tell me anything​​ about you?

“Well apparently you already​​ know​​ everything about me.​​ What else do you need to know?”

“How about why someone so gifted continually​​ wastes​​ his​​ talents?​​ Songwriter, physicist, and now you tell me writer, you’re so much more than Quinn Quark​​ the one-hit rock star​​ and I​​ just​​ want​​ the world​​ to​​ know.​​ Isn’t that what you want​​ too, for people to know the real you?”

Walter stood silent, contemplating​​ for a moment.

“No​​ actually,” he said.​​ “I’m sorry,​​ this​​ was​​ a mistake.”​​ He opened her front door.​​ 

“Walter stop,” she​​ begged. “Why?”

“Because​​ the real me is not who you think​​ he​​ is. Wanna know the truth? I have no​​ novel, not a single​​ page, so cross off writer.” He slashed an invisible pen over the air. “And some crackpot ideas I had while smoking too much pot in college doesn’t classify me as a physicist either; in fact, it’s just an​​ insult to the field.​​ So we’ll cross off that one too.​​ Hm…​​ what else? Oh yeah,​​ songwriter. I guess I’ll give you that, but not for much longer. As of next month I’m officially resigned of that title too. So there it is, an over-hyped,​​ title-less nobody who can’t commit himself to​​ anyone or​​ anything; just a big fucking face for people to​​ talk​​ about, that’s all.​​ You know, sometimes I wish nature hadn’t made me so brilliant if that’s what I really am. It’d sure make things a​​ lot easier. I envy the average man; the person who can float through life blissfully ignorant​​ of the world,​​ because​​ fuck the world!”

The front door struck​​ its frame like a thunderbolt.​​ 

 

Walter​​ tried to​​ walk​​ to his car,​​ but​​ delirium cuffed him to the​​ curb in front of​​ Francis’s​​ house.​​ As he sat, his head tilted​​ to​​ the night sky​​ in search​​ of​​ answers as​​ it​​ so often did.​​ 

 “She’s right,” he said.​​ Why?​​ . . .​​ Why-why-why-why?​​ Why do​​ you​​ always​​ throw away​​ everything good​​ for something uncertain​​ Walter, or whoever the fuck you are today?​​ Physics for rock stardom, rock stardom for writing, Amber for her mother—what’s next and when will it stop?”

A​​ cycle​​ then​​ began​​ to formulate.​​ Every​​ time something became too​​ comfortable,​​ he abandoned it​​ for​​ something new and more​​ challenging.​​ He couldn’t stand​​ to be comfortable, to be stable—to be bored.

“But then who am I?”​​ he​​ asked. “What am​​ I? Can I still be​​ or should​​ I​​ be asking these questions at​​ twenty-five? I can’t keep going around like this,​​ flirting with everything life has to offer. I have to stick to something, stick to someone. I have to be an adult . . . But I like new things. I like to dream. I like change.​​ I like being​​ single.​​ Why does it have to stop?​​ Why does life have to revolve around one resolute identity?”​​ 

The dilemma of being twenty-five.​​ Walter​​ had grown into a man, but was still very much a boy​​ at heart.

“Who are you talking to?”​​ Francis​​ asked​​ from​​ her doorway.​​ Walter stirred​​ to​​ his​​ feet​​ in surprise.

“Um…​​ myself,”​​ he replied.

“You realize that’s kind of​​ crazy,​​ right?”

“Guilty as charged.”

She shook her head.​​ “So what’s your deal?” she asked.​​ “Does it​​ really​​ drive you​​ that​​ crazy that​​ people recognize you​​ sometimes; that you impact their lives?”

“Just because people recognize me doesn’t mean I affect​​ their​​ lives.​​ I recognize Kim Kardashian, but if she​​ never existed​​ I think my world would be no different.”​​ 

“But​​ you​​ don’t​​ represent the world​​ Walter.​​ Kim Kardashian may have no impact on you, but she sure​​ does on the rest of the world—and that’s important. If there’s one thing I’ve learned​​ as a journalist, it’s that​​ you can’t be so consumed in your own world that you​​ forget about​​ the​​ actual​​ one. Kim Kardashian, as unfortunate as it may sound​​ to you, is the real world.

“Since I’ve already tanked my interview,”​​ Francis​​ continued, “I’m just going to be brutally honest with you now:​​ you​​ really​​ need​​ to​​ buck the fuck up​​ and stop being such a whiny bitch. There’s a lot worse curses that could be placed on​​ you​​ than being intelligent,​​ multi-talented,​​ good-looking,​​ and famous.​​ Also, becoming​​ a writer isn’t going to free you of​​ fame.​​ If your intention is to have an impact on people, whether it be through a song, a​​ story, or even a theory, you’re​​ also​​ going to have to deal with them—deal with being famous.​​ People​​ don’t connect with ideas​​ insomuch as they​​ connect with​​ other​​ people. Now,​​ should I call the cops and tell them some madman is talking​​ to himself in​​ my front lawn,​​ or do you want to come back in?”

 

Back in the living room,​​ Walter snatched up his discarded drink from the coffee table and began sipping at it.

“I can’t help but notice your drink is just ice,” Francis said. He pulled the glass​​ to his eyes and realized she was right.​​ “Do you want some more whiskey, or something else?”​​ she asked.

“You know, I could go for a beer if you have one,” he​​ replied.

“Of course. I’ll be right back.”

As​​ he watched her leave the room,​​ the​​ long,​​ naked legs​​ and​​ nice​​ behind​​ beneath her thin pajama bottoms​​ began circling his imagination.​​ 

No Walter. Be a good boy. Use your fucking brain. His tongue tossed around an ice cube to ease his drooling libido. Maybe his old professor Alan Schechter was right; maybe he did have deficient blood flow to operate his penis and brain at the same time. He often found his sex drive a maddening​​ disruption, leeching his​​ brain’s​​ ability​​ to think about anything else​​ until satisfied.​​ 

Walter​​ noticed​​ Francis’s binder, left temptingly abandoned on the couch.​​ What else does she have on me?​​ he wondered as he went to capture it.​​ 

Clearly​​ Francis​​ must’ve been anal about organization; every page was carefully tabbed and alphabetically arranged into sections about​​ his​​ life. Never had he imagined it with so much order. He opened to his time at UCLA and something caught his eye he hadn’t seen in well over three years; something that had once been as important to him as children.

“I hope you don’t mind, but all I have are some locally brewed IPAs,” she said, passively looking over two beers.

“Strange, because according to this file . . . on preferred intoxicants, under alcohol, under beer, you have listed Left Coast Trestles IPA. Oh, what a coincidence, that’s exactly the beer you have in your hands.”

Her chipmunkish cheeks turned red.​​ “Oh my god!”​​ she said and​​ snatched the binder from his lap.

“What? Am I not allowed to read this very comprehensive examination of my own life? I feel completely invaded, but oddly impressed.​​ You’re like a​​ female Nardwuar.”

She chuckled.​​ “No,” she said, “but​​ thank you for the comparison.​​ Your favorite drinks were easy; they’re on your tour rider. The other stuff… well, a good journalist never reveals​​ all​​ her sources. Truthfully, I don’t normally do this much homework,​​ but once I started digging, it was hard to stop. There really is so much more to you than people know.”

“And I’d like to keep it that way.”

“Here we go again.” She rolled her eyes. “Listen, you’re not my prisoner. You’re free to leave,​​ however,​​ if you’re going to stay, you need to start answering some questions, okay? I understand this...” she held up the binder, “...is kind of creepy. But there’s a reason​​ why​​ I​​ get​​ the stories no one else can: no one else works harder than me.”

Although the​​ salvo was​​ made, there was a controlled crazy around her Walter’s own crazy​​ couldn’t help but be drawn​​ into​​ play​​ with.

“Good,” she said, taking his silence as acceptance. She then pulled open one of the coffee table drawers beneath him, revealing a water pipe. “Oops. Forgot that was in there.”

Sure you did...​​ his penis-constricted mind managed to eke out. ...Run away.

Francis​​ closed the drawer and opened another. “Ah, there it is,” she said, and took out a bottle opener. “Cheers...”​​ she​​ gave him a bottle then​​ held​​ hers to his.​​ They​​ tapped, then​​ both took​​ big​​ swigs. Walter’s attention then went back to her binder.

“I noticed you have copies of my ‘crackpot ideas’ from college in there,” he said.​​ 

“Yes. Actually, I was hoping you could explain your theories a little? Just for the sake of my own curiosity.” She smiled widely, her buckteeth biting into her bottom lip like fangs into Walter’s heart.

“Well first off,” he said, “please don’t call them theories. The word​​ theory​​ deserves more sanctity than that. They’re more like . . . arts and crafts time, but with physics. Mind if I see them?”

She removed only the necessary pages and handed them to him. As he sorted​​ through, he​​ laughed​​ softly like someone reminiscing over an old photo album.  ​​​​ 

“Okay,” Francis said, “well, can you explain some of your ‘arts and crafts’ then? Uh…​​ Fibonacci Manipulations of Calabi-Yau​​ Manifolds…” she struggled to read from her notes,  ​​​​ “…sounds like a good place to start.”

​​ “Sure,”​​ Walter​​ said. “Unlike my personal life, I could talk about physics all night. You should take a deep breath to clear your head​​ though.​​ I’ll try my best to​​ keep​​ a tether, but I can’t promise you won’t let go.”

“Where​​ are you planning​​ on taking me Mister Huxley?” she said, her fangs biting in again. She then took an exaggerated breath. “Okay, I’m ready.”

“So the first thing every aspiring physicist learns,” Walter began, “is the big unsolved​​ question​​ of their day. Sort of a goal to reach if you really think you’re the next Einstein. The big unsolved problem facing physicists today is bringing Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which explains how big things like planets, stars, and galaxies operate, together with quantum mechanics, which tells us how things smaller than an atom operate. Separately, these mechanisms work great for calculating their constituents and have been proven beyond a doubt, yet when you bring them together—which we know has to happen when matter is compressed inside a blackhole, the calculations make no sense. A theory that would solve this has thus been dubbed, ‘a theory of everything’. Are you still following Francis?”

She was​​ fluidly​​ jotting away​​ with her eyes focused to the paper.​​ “Yep,​​ still​​ listening,” she said. “The theory of relativity and quantum mechanics don’t play nicely together—got it.”

“Well,​​ this paper is a guess to that problem. All my papers are essentially guesses to that problem. This particular one, however, is rooted in string theory, and according to​​ it, our universe is made up of ten to eleven dimensions, however,​​ we only experience four of them. Think about the way in which you give someone your location. You tell them you’re on the corner of Main and Broadway on the second floor of such-and-such building. These coordinates represent the three spatial dimensions: left and right, forward and back, and up and down. Of course you also give a​​ time​​ in which you’ll be at this three dimensional location, and that is dimension number four. My second paper, however,​​ Reconsiderations of The Time Dimension,​​ questions if time can really constitute as a full dimension because it only flows one direction—forward, and my third paper,​​ Application of Uncertainty Principle to Spacetime, expands on this by saying there is no such thing as time because​​ wave-particle duality we find in quantum mechanics can also be found in the characteristics of spacetime​​ being that space is all location and time is all momentum yet they​​ still make​​ up​​ the same entity—” Walter stopped, noticing her confusion. “Sorry, I’m getting a little sidetracked.”

“It’s okay,” she said. “It’s cute how worked up you get about this.”

“Who wouldn’t? We’re poking at the mind of God​​ here!​​ . . . Let’s back up. So string theory, ten to eleven dimensions, but we only experience four. So where are the other six—or seven if you want to count an M-theory technicality which my ‘guess’ does not?​​ They, according​​ to theory,​​ are​​ down at something called the Planck length,​​ rolled up into unfathomably small, six-dimensional ‘knots’ called Calabi–Yau manifolds that hold the threads of reality together so to speak.​​ To give you a reference​​ point,​​ imagine if an atom were the entire universe, this length​​ would be the​​ size​​ of​​ an​​ average tree here on Earth.​​ The shape of these ‘knots’, however,​​ is unknown, but very important.​​ Just the way the shape of a trumpet or tuba manipulates air​​ into particular​​ sound properties such​​ as​​ pitch and​​ timbre,​​ the​​ shape of these​​ knots​​ manipulate vibrating,​​ microscopic strings​​ into​​ particular​​ particle properties​​ such as​​ charge and mass, which​​ dictate gravity​​ and the forces that​​ attract, glue, and pull apart particles.​​ Particles like quarks​​ then​​ coalesce into protons and neutrons,​​ which interact with electrons to become atoms. Atoms interact with other atoms to become molecules;​​ molecules interact with other molecules​​ to become​​ matter, until eventually,​​ this beautifully complex symphony​​ emerges​​ we call reality.​​ Incredible​​ isn’t it?”

Some of​​ Walter’s​​ zeal seemingly soaked into Francis as her eyes had closed and her pen had stopped. Her body​​ appeared​​ seized in revelation.​​ 

Her lashes fluttered open.​​ “Yes, it really is,” she said. “Maybe that’s​​ why music connects​​ with us at our core; we’re just part of some great masterpiece by some unknown composer.”

“Physics does have a lot in common with music,”​​ Walter​​ said. “It even has the same wave-particle like nature we find in quantum mechanics.”

Francis looked at him lustfully.​​ “God,” she said, “you​​ must​​ be​​ really​​ fun to get high with.”

“Yes, getting high with God would be fun,” Walter joked. “But I insist I am not him.” He then finished off his first beer. “Mind if I have another?” he asked.

“Sure, one sec.” She stood to get another. “I’m serious though. If you want to, that bong in the drawer is all yours. Help yourself.”​​ 

Her teasing eyes remained on him until she left the room. As she returned, he looked at her cynically. He couldn’t shake the feeling he was being duped.

“Should we get high?” she asked.​​ 

“Maybe after the interview. I haven’t even told you my addition to string theory yet—I mean my meaningless guess.”

“Please continue,” she said and set the new beer in front of him.

“So are you familiar with a Fibonacci sequence?” he asked.

“Sounds familiar, but remind me.”

“In​​ a Fibonacci sequence,​​ you add the number with the number before it to get the next number.​​ 1+1 equals 2, 2+1 equals 3, 3+2 equals 5, 5+3 equals 8 and so forth, until you have a sequence that looks like this: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55—you get the point. You find Fibonacci numbers and ratios all over nature, the most popular one being a logarithmic spiral based on the sequence called ‘the golden spiral’. You see this spiral in plants, galaxies, seashells, hurricanes, and even in the structure of DNA. However, this is not because the Fibonacci sequence is some magical cosmic code, but more so a logical arrangement that nature was bound to adopt because it’s efficient and practical, whether it be packing as many seeds as possible into a given space, arranging leaves in order to capture the most sunlight,​​ or in my​​ paper’s​​ case, arranging six dimensions into a very small​​ ‘knot’.​​ 

“All this paper explores is possible Calabi-Yau​​ manifolds arranged​​ according to the mathematical constant behind the golden spiral: the golden ratio.​​ But​​ my understanding of multiverse theory at the time was very limited,​​ and it shows there may be an infinite​​ number​​ of​​ possible ‘knots’. My fourth paper,​​ Fibonacci Influenced Cosmic Inflation, does the same thing, but​​ applies the golden ratio to the expansion of the universe from the Big Bang.​​ But really, all these papers were just me​​ having​​ fun​​ with​​ the paintbrush of mathematics.​​ I didn’t really know what I was doing,​​ however, I was arrogant enough to call the year I wrote them,​​ 2007,​​ my​​ annus mirabilis, or ‘miracle year’ after Einstein’s miracle year in 1905​​ because I thought they were going to change the world.

Francis​​ again​​ looked awestruck, slowly shaking her head at him.

“What?” Walter​​ said.​​ 

“I don’t know,” she​​ replied.​​ “You’ve​​ just​​ been the center of my world lately in preparation for this interview, and now to have you here in front of me,​​ I guess​​ you’re exceeding expectations—good and bad. I’ve interviewed everyone from rock stars to presidents,​​ and I’ve never felt so… so star-struck​​ I guess.”

“Francis...”​​ he​​ said, his cheeks looking suddenly sunburned, “I’m a lot more ordinary than you think.”

“Well, I’m having trouble finding anything ordinary about you.” Her smile​​ again​​ sunk into his heart. “So what happened? You had your miracle year and then what, it all slipped away?”

“I suppose, but​​ I never really wanted it in the first place.​​ Physicist was​​ always​​ just plan B to​​ rock star. That was​​ always my dream,​​ but​​ in high​​ school,​​ my religion​​ didn’t quite fit into the lifestyle of my dream since band​​ gigs were​​ always​​ at places and with people the​​ Mormon​​ church didn’t​​ find kosher, so I got more interested in physics​​ instead.​​ But by​​ sophomore year​​ in college, Mormonism was no longer making​​ the​​ rules, rock n’ roll was, and once I realized I’d never be a new Einstein, I lost interest in physics.​​ It was really just​​ me trying​​ to prove my parents wrong anyhow.”

“What do​​ you​​ mean?”

“I… I just didn’t get much support from them​​ growing up,​​ my​​ stepmother​​ especially who​​ always said​​ I was​​ worthless and stupid, so my​​ solution was trying to become the next Einstein​​ to prove her wrong, even though she was dead by the time I was fourteen.”

“Really?” Francis said, unable to mask her enthusiasm. “What did she die from?”

It suddenly occurred to Walter what was happening.​​ They were supposed to enter his past briefly, but​​ now they were in his childhood, a place he had not been since until recent events forced him to revisit again. When four people’s lives would​​ most likely​​ still exist​​ if yours didn’t, you begin to wonder about​​ the meaning of such​​ patterns.

“Goddamn it,” he said shaking his head. “I need​​ to​​ shut up. Why am I telling you all this? Stanford’s journalism department​​ must​​ be proud. You really have a knack for pulling information out of people.”

“I was a psychology major. And to be honest, I’m not having to try very hard. Remember, I can leave anything out. I can be​​ just​​ an ear​​ too.”​​ She surrendered her pen again.

“She​​ drank herself to death four years after my parents divorced,”​​ Walter said.

“Why’d they divorce?”​​ Francis asked.

“Numerous reasons, all​​ involving me​​ though. But​​ the breaking point came when​​ I​​ joined the Mormon church​​ when I was ten,​​ which my stepmother​​ thought was of Satan—or her alcoholism​​ did​​ once​​ my father began​​ showing a passing​​ interest in the church.​​ When​​ my father​​ was gone on business trips, she used to lock me in my room after removing the interior doorknob for days sometimes, refusing to feed me unless I renounced the church.”

“That’s horrible.​​ Did your​​ father know?”

“Yes, but he downplayed it since my stepmother did. Her word was always taken over mine because I was proof of his dishonesty, and anytime he questioned hers,​​ I​​ was​​ always​​ her leveraging point.

“Leveraging point?”

“Oops,​​ I​​ didn’t mean for that to slip out.”

“It’s okay. Remember, ‘slip ups’​​ are okay here.”

Walter finished​​ his beer​​ before answering:​​ “I was​​ the​​ product of​​ an​​ extramarital one-night stand, but when​​ my mother​​ died giving birth to me, my father had no choice but to take me in.”

“Oh​​ my.​​ I’m​​ so​​ sorry.”

“Why​​ does everyone say that?”

“Sorry . . .​​ Where’s your father now?”

“Still in Arizona, but dead to me.​​ After the divorce, he dove into the alcohol even further, and after I dumped out his new bottles of rum one night, he put me in the hospital with a concussion. Child services then gave custody to my maternal grandmother,​​ who I still live with now . . .​​ I’m sorry,”​​ Walter​​ said wiping his eyes. “I haven’t thought about these things for a long time, but​​ ever since Squids’s death,​​ I​​ feel like they’ve been​​ bubbling out of me.”

“Please, don’t be sorry. You have nothing to be sorry for.​​ It’s probably because you’ve repressed them for so long.​​ What do you think it​​ is about his death that’s​​ triggering them?”

“It wasn’t just his death, it was my girlfriend’s too. I never told anyone in the press this, but she died right before the tour with Jester. They both​​ died within three months of each other, and both were sort of my fault.”​​ Walter’s tears became too much for wiping.​​ 

Francis took her notebook and pen sitting by her side and placed them on the coffee table.​​ “Come here,” she patted the​​ seat​​ cushion next to her, then opened her arms to him. He couldn’t hold himself back from accepting​​ the​​ invitation,​​ and​​ continued crying​​ into her clavicle.

“Shh…” she​​ said patting his back. “It’s all right Walter, it’s all right.”

Once calmed, he brought his head up.​​ “Thank you,” he​​ told her. “Maybe​​ we should pull out that bong now.​​ It might make me feel better.”

 

“Want another?” Francis asked​​ an hour or so later​​ as she gently stroked​​ Walter’s​​ head resting atop her mons pubis.​​ 

“Yes please,”​​ he​​ cooed. She took a hit from the bong and shot-gunned it into his mouth like​​ Amber used to do.

“So...” she said as her lips departed, “Squids stuck the needle in his arm and Amber died of a seizure, how​​ is that your fault?”

“Wanna know the truth?” Walter said, so gone he could no longer keep his eyes in place. “Wanna know what my last words to Squids were when I found him shooting up in that tour bus bathroom he later died in, right before he probably shot up the dose that killed him? ‘Shoot up until you’re dead for​​ all I care, because once this tour’s over, you’re out of the band.’ And it seems he took that to heart. Then poor Amber, after she dedicated her life to helping Perfect Crime make it, I decided on the very day we signed our record contract to break up with her, which was also the same​​ night​​ she died.”

“And​​ you think the break up caused her fatal seizure?”​​ 

“Almost certainly. Amber had absent seizures as a child, but they stopped​​ at​​ nine.​​ But when​​ she was caught cheating with me on a fiancé she was three months out from marrying, they returned. She also had one right after I broke up with her, which, I suppose in hindsight, was only a foreshock to the grand mal that killed her later. Even worse, you know what I was doing in the hours right before she died? I was lip-locking with her mother in my car while we both had our hands down each other’s pants.”

Francis’s eyes went wide​​ and​​ her​​ pen fell​​ to the floor​​ which she had picked​​ up​​ again without Walter noticing.​​ “Did you say her​​ mother?” she​​ asked.

A​​ great​​ surge of regret​​ rose in​​ Walter, but convinced Francis’s affection was​​ not only​​ benevolent​​ but​​ romantic, his head lacked the blood supply to stop his mouth from moving.​​ 

“Yes,​​ I guess I did,” he​​ answered.​​ 

“So​​ wait.​​ Amber cheated on her fiancé with you, then left him for you, then you cheated on her with her mother?”

“Well, I had broken up with Amber an hour and a half before, but basically.​​ But it​​ was only​​ that​​ one time.​​ We were both emotional, and it just happened. And​​ I know it sounds horrible, but​​ I think the only reason I was dating Amber was​​ because I was in love​​ with​​ her mother.​​ I think some part of her​​ mother​​ was​​ also​​ unknowingly​​ in love with me, but​​ some loves​​ are better​​ off​​ not mentioned and​​ just forgotten.”

“But forgotten​​ doesn’t mean​​ non-existing​​ . . .​​ Are​​ you still​​ in​​ love​​ with​​ her​​ mother?”

Walter’s eyes began leaking again as he shook his head yes. “I​​ miss​​ her all the time,​​ and I hate myself for it. It’s why I can’t release​​ Love Songs in A Minor Crash.​​ It’s not because I didn’t finish it, it’s because most of the songs​​ ended up being​​ about her.

Francis looked down at him​​ as he continued to cry, then at the large number of empty glasses and bottles around them, not all of them​​ Walter’s.

“Um…” she said​​ giving his head one final rub,​​ “…it’s three​​ a.m. If you’re okay, I think I’m going to​​ go to​​ bed now.​​ You can sleep​​ on my​​ couch.”

He wasn’t okay and he didn’t want​​ to sleep on​​ her​​ couch, yet​​ “okay,”​​ was all he​​ said.​​ She​​ then stood and his head fell off her lap.​​ She then got him​​ a blanket and tossed it by his side.

“Do you need anything else?”​​ she asked.​​ He wanted to say “you”, but instead just shook his head sourly. “Okay. Goodnight.”

She then turned​​ off the gas fireplace and lights, leaving Walter alone in​​ obscurity.​​ Obscurity, however,​​ soon​​ started to spin, and​​ an imaginary centrifugal force pinned him to his back. He reached for the ice bucket still on the table, but his fingers were just out of reach. He then began to bleat loudly.

“Are you crying​​ again?” he could hear Francis say in the dark. “What’s that smell?” She flicked a light switch and found her answer. “Oh my god, you’ve got to be shitting me.”

“I’m sorry,” Walter said, leaned over the side of the couch covered in puke.

“No, this is... this is​​ partially​​ my fault.​​ But that doesn’t mean you’re not helping me clean up.”​​ 

Walter stood, holding up the bottom of his shirt to let the mess pool into it. She giggled faintly.​​ 

“Even covered in your own barf,” she said, “somehow you manage to still look pathetically cute​​ . . .​​ I guess it’s not that bad. Thankfully you got most of it on yourself. Go take a shower. I’ll take care of the rest.”

After a thorough shower and teeth brushing, in nothing but his underwear, Walter accepted his place back on the couch.​​ 

“Come on,” Francis said, “you can sleep in my bed with me.”​​ He​​ perked like a happy dog from the couch. “It smells like cleaner in here now and the couch is still wet.​​ But no more crying or puking. I need my sleep.”

Entering her room, Francis looked over Walter’s mostly naked body, subtly stirred by it. She shook her head.​​ 

“Here, put on a damn shirt,” she said handing him one from her closet. They then settled under the covers, and surprisingly she accepted a kiss from him. Overly eager and still partially plastered, Walter then made a clumsy attempt for a breast, but she pushed his hand away.

“No Walter, it’s not happening,” she said. “Go to sleep.” She then turned away from him and he was left to sulk at her back.

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 6

Chapter​​ 6

Who is Walter Huxley?

 

VALENTINE’S DAY/ WALTER’S BIRTHDAY 2012

 

Walter turned​​ from Orange​​ onto​​ Main Street​​ and into the Huntington Beach Street Fair,​​ which​​ filled​​ Main Street with​​ a colorfully noisy​​ mass of people​​ instead of vehicles​​ every Tuesday​​ night. The street’s squirmy,​​ people-colored​​ center​​ tentacled​​ across PCH and​​ onto​​ the pier,​​ spilling​​ a third of a mile into the​​ blushing​​ blue​​ ocean​​ view and orange cream sky.

Flanking​​ and serving​​ the​​ people-colored​​ center​​ was a farmers market and​​ two long​​ lines​​ of​​ canopies​​ selling​​ commodities​​ and​​ skills​​ of​​ every​​ kind:​​ food,​​ art, clothes,​​ soaps, flowers, animal, mechanical, and inflatable​​ rides,​​ portable and live music,​​ massages, psychic readings,​​ professional and homeless​​ street performances. The street fair​​ was also​​ the only​​ event​​ downtown​​ bums and​​ locals​​ came out​​ in as many​​ numbers​​ as​​ tourists. It was​​ a​​ smorgasbord​​ of socialization a lonely person could get high from, and​​ Walter​​ was going to miss getting high a lot.​​ Grandma didn’t allow weed or booze.​​ 

Regardless, Walter​​ didn’t have the budget for them.​​ The label’s advance​​ was​​ at​​ an end, and​​ although they allowed​​ him​​ to stay in the house,​​ they​​ stopped paying rent two months earlier.​​ Now with​​ less than​​ two​​ hundred dollars​​ to his name​​ and soon to be living with Grandma again,​​ Walter​​ felt no shame​​ doubling​​ up on free samples​​ of food​​ as he moved through​​ the​​ street fair.​​ 

By​​ PCH, he​​ was​​ full enough.​​ Crossing the road, he​​ entered​​ Huntington Beach Pier,​​ Walter’s​​ favorite part of his walk​​ and home to his​​ “spot”.

The​​ pier​​ was the largest in Orange County​​ and​​ buoyed​​ a full-size Ruby’s Diner at the end.​​ With surfers​​ crisscrossing​​ its pillars on​​ near-constant swells, the pier was​​ Surf City’s centerpiece​​ and​​ attracted​​ travelers from​​ all over​​ the world. This​​ daily​​ washing of faces mixed with​​ the​​ fixed​​ tides of​​ cute​​ Ruby’s waitresses was why​​ Walter​​ never tired of walking​​ the pier.​​ Instead of going out into the world, the pier brought the world to him.

Reaching​​ the pier’s​​ spear-shaped​​ end,​​ he​​ was​​ happy to​​ find​​ his​​ “spot”, the most seaward-facing tip,​​ vacant.​​ Wedging into it,​​ he​​ imagined​​ himself on​​ a ship​​ bow​​ heading​​ out to sea​​ as waves bowled in beneath. He stayed​​ imagining​​ until the last splinters of​​ the​​ sun​​ were​​ pulled​​ into​​ the horizon.​​ He then turned to people watch.​​ 

As​​ his​​ foci​​ rounded the end of the pier, almost all were​​ nuzzling​​ couples,​​ still​​ drunk on​​ the​​ bleeding​​ idealism​​ Valentine’s Day​​ and sunsets​​ bestow​​ on lovers.

Loneliness is such a bitch,​​ Walter​​ ruminated,​​ but it’s the bitch I love.

​​ It was an apt calculation of his creative muse. Without loneliness, creatively, he was​​ dead. Loneliness was​​ his​​ admission inside his head, a reality as real to him as the one outside of it. But​​ as of late,​​ his only pure repository of​​ loneliness was​​ his home.​​ It was why he’d​​ hardly left​​ it​​ the past two months.​​ Outside,​​ he​​ was​​ always​​ vulnerable to​​ some stranger cauterizing his​​ solitude, but​​ isolation​​ was​​ costing​​ him his sanity, the very thing solitude was supposed to​​ save. How any artist survived being famous was beyond him, yet​​ his whole life this was all he worked for and wanted.​​ ​​ 

​​ Although​​ Walter​​ killed Quinn Quark—arguably​​ after he killed​​ two other people—two months earlier,​​ Quinn​​ was becoming more famous​​ in death​​ than ever.​​ His​​ sharp rise and fall was the stuff of urban legends, and it only fed more​​ interest​​ about the man behind​​ him. It also didn’t help Cirkus wouldn’t confirm any details about​​ Perfect Crime’s​​ breakup, hoping the threat of a lawsuit would change Walter’s mind.

Once​​ the​​ day committed to night, Walter turned back to the ocean.​​ His ship was now​​ sailing​​ the cosmos. Black sky​​ sat upon​​ black sea,​​ creating​​ an​​ artifice​​ of​​ twinkling​​ space​​ to​​ wander​​ and​​ wonder​​ about. Lady Stardust—his pet name for the night sky—was the only remedy for a mind​​ as​​ awash in death as his;​​ she transcended​​ it.​​ While​​ nothing​​ compared​​ to her,​​ the same laws that governed​​ her​​ governed​​ him, and the same matter that made​​ her​​ made​​ him, and knowing​​ this​​ calmed him​​ for the same reason prayer calms.​​ ​​ 

“Happy birthday Quarky!” a voice roped him back to Earth. He didn’t need to turn to know who it was. There was only one person​​ on Earth​​ who called him Quarky:​​ Lola.​​ 

 

“I thought I’d find you in your spot,”​​ Lola​​ said, snuggling into his side.​​ “For someone who supposedly hates​​ routine, you sure are predictable at times.”​​ In the faint glow from the Ruby’s Diner​​ behind them, Walter noticed some new leopard spots painted into​​ the buzzed sides of her​​ bright, pink,​​ swordfish-like​​ mohawk.

“Everyone needs​​ the support of​​ some​​ familiarity​​ in life,”​​ he said, his face​​ not happy or unhappy to see her.​​ Their meetings​​ were always​​ double-edged now.

“Well,​​ most people find that with family and friends,” she said,​​ “not walks and thinking spots.”

“I like my solitude.​​ It’s important​​ to my creative process.”

“Oh really? I never knew. So glad we got you that beach house. Does this mean we’re finally getting that album you promised back in December​​ then?”

He ignored​​ her​​ and​​ craned​​ his head​​ back​​ up​​ at​​ Lady Stardust.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s your birthday, and if you don’t want to talk about it today, that’s​​ okay​​ . . .​​ But​​ still...” she pulled his​​ chin and​​ eyes back to​​ Earth,​​ “…I would like to know what’s going on?​​ You​​ haven’t returned​​ any​​ calls or texts​​ in​​ the last​​ week, and I haven’t​​ actually​​ seen you​​ in​​ well​​ over a month.​​ Look at this beard you’ve grown.”​​ She​​ stroked​​ the sides​​ of his face.​​ “I know today is your last day with the house—sorry, not my fault it happened to land on your birthday, so​​ I​​ just had to make sure you’re at least​​ living.”

Well...”​​ Walter said, his hands gesturing downward,​​ je pense,​​ donc je suis.​​ Thanks for checking​​ in, but I​​ was enjoying being alone, especially since that’s becoming less and less of a privilege lately. So please, just go.

“Quinn Quark!” A passerby shouted.​​ 

Fuck,” Walter​​ said​​ under his breath.​​ Lola’s​​ flamboyant​​ fin​​ must’ve attracted eyes that otherwise​​ would’ve​​ missed him.​​ 

It was an awkward intrusion as​​ a​​ teenage boy forced his way between them.​​ “Holy shit!​​ You’re Quinn Quark,” he said.​​ “I’m sorry to bother you, but​​ do you mind if I get a picture​​ with you? You’re like my idol​​ man.”​​ 

Walter​​ looked​​ cynically​​ at the fan.​​ Growing up,​​ he​​ never wanted to meet his idols, fearing he’d find them​​ too​​ human.

“Fine,”​​ Lola​​ said,​​ discreetly​​ wiping her eyes.​​ “I’ll go.”

But as soon as she did,​​ Walter regretted​​ telling her so.​​ His fame​​ was​​ much​​ easier to handle​​ with her​​ by his side.​​ ​​ 

“Please?” the fan asked again.​​ “It would mean so much.”

“Uh…​​ sure,” Walter said,​​ his eyes still on​​ Lola​​ as she moved swiftly down the pier. He​​ forced a smile​​ while​​ the fan’s girlfriend fumbled with her phone.

“Is the album​​ still coming out?—What’s it sound like?—Do you have a new bassist?—Perfect Crime’s gonna​​ stay together​​ right?—You gotta keep going—Your voice was one of a kind man…”​​ the fan​​ sawed on.​​ 

“I’m sorry,​​ I’ve got to go,”​​ Walter said.​​ He​​ didn’t want to be alone anymore. “Uh… thanks for the support,” he said and​​ chased after​​ Lola.

“Lola!”​​ he​​ shouted. She​​ glimpsed​​ back and​​ tried​​ to​​ continue, but​​ couldn’t.

What?” she stung​​ back. “You​​ obviously don’t want to see me.​​ I’m sorry I ever cared.”

“That’s not true​​ . . . Come on,​​ let’s walk and talk,”​​ he said​​ catching up​​ to her. “Look,​​ I am​​ glad to see you, but you know, it’s…”

“Complicated?​​ Complicated​​ because​​ your​​ former​​ fuck buddy​​ now represents your enemy?​​ Yeah, it hasn’t been easy for me either.”

“Quinn! Quinn!...” a​​ group​​ of teenage boys and girls accosted​​ Walter from the front.​​ His paranoia told him the other fan broadcasted his location​​ and​​ now​​ sharks​​ were swimming in from everywhere.​​ The commotion​​ drew​​ in​​ the rest of​​ the​​ pier’s​​ traffic, and soon everyone was​​ halted​​ around​​ Walter,​​ whether they knew​​ Quinn Quark​​ or not.​​ 

Walter​​ cowered​​ to​​ the​​ railing​​ as​​ the crowds​​ closed in​​ armed with cellphones.​​ FUCK OFF!” he​​ lashed​​ back.​​ “I’m not​​ fucking​​ Quinn Quark! I’m Walter Huxley—Walter​​ fucking​​ Huxley!”​​ Normally he could keep it together better than this, but​​ the inside of him was​​ so​​ fractured​​ and​​ the pieces so fine, it was getting​​ harder all the time.

Lola’s mouth​​ suspended. She had never seen him reject fans, especially​​ so​​ forcefully.​​ The crowd looked confoundedly at one another.

“Walter Huxley?” one of the teenage girls said. “What kind of weird name is that?”​​ Walter received this​​ opinion about his name​​ a lot.​​ Like him, it was a bit odd.​​ 

“No,​​ he’s​​ Quinn Quark,”​​ one of the teenage boys​​ said. “Look, he’s got the bellbottoms and everything. His hair’s​​ just​​ shorter,​​ and he’s got a beard​​ . . . Hey Quinn.​​ Is it true?​​ Did​​ you​​ go crazy and​​ kill Squids?”​​ Obviously this wasn’t a fan, but a heckler, something​​ Walter​​ had a growing number of.​​ 

Do you think if I killed Squids . . . Do you think if I killed​​ Squids​​ . . .” …I’d still be walking the streets?​​ was what​​ he was trying to say, but couldn’t, because in​​ exactitude​​ he​​ had​​ been​​ a pivotal​​ actor​​ in Squids’s​​ death.

Frozen by frustration,​​ he​​ fell into one of his​​ newly​​ infamous​​ “fit-o’-fucks”,​​ uncontrollable, arm-throwing,​​ fuck-laced freak-outs that began shortly after Squids’s​​ death.​​ This was the show everyone came to see​​ Walter​​ perform now.​​ A video of one he had two weeks earlier went viral, and since,​​ his number of tantrums and taunting teenagers had exploded exponentially.

“Ha-ha, there he goes!”​​ the instigating teenager​​ said.​​ Some people scolded the hooligan, but just as many​​ laughed​​ with him​​ and started filming with their phones.​​ 

It was the first​​ fit-o’-fuck​​ Lola had​​ witnessed in person.​​ Sure she’d seen much worse in private,​​ but​​ to​​ see him​​ boil​​ out of control​​ for​​ cheap​​ entertainment​​ was​​ a​​ heartbreaking​​ revelation​​ of​​ his​​ degraded state.

“What​​ the fuck’s​​ wrong with you?!” she yelled at​​ the​​ crowd,​​ shrouding Walter in her arms.​​ As she took him away, some genuine fans​​ tried to follow, still pleading for pictures,​​ but her ferocious​​ HE SAID​​ FUCK-OFF!”​​ kept​​ them​​ back.​​ 

“You okay?” she asked​​ Walter.

“Yeah—thanks,”​​ he​​ said,​​ still slightly prideful.​​ He​​ pulled up his sweater hood​​ and tightly pulled the draw strings.

“You know you can’t hide​​ behind a new haircut and beard,” she told him. “Your most recognizable attribute is your pants. You’ve got to lose the​​ bellbottoms.”

“Never.​​ The bellbottoms​​ have been​​ a part of me long before Quinn Quark was—since high school.​​ They’re​​ my homage to rock n’ roll’s classical heyday.”

Lola began laughing.​​ I know​​ Walter​​ and​​ Quinn far too​​ well​​ for you to​​ bullshit​​ me,” she said.​​ First, you gave rock n’ roll the middle finger by​​ quitting.​​ Second,​​ although Quinn Quark may have told every reporter that’s why he wore bellbottoms,​​ in truth,​​ Walter​​ is just​​ insecure​​ about his cankles.”​​ He’d forgotten he confessed that to her one night on tour after they had too much wine.

“Now, do you really want me to stay,” Lola said,​​ “or​​ do you just want to​​ continue​​ to​​ bullshit me?”

“Yes, please stay. I’m sorry.”

“I​​ forgive you,” she said, and pulled him closer,​​ “but only because​​ it’s your birthday. And oh yeah, here’s your birthday kiss,”​​ she said and lightly​​ kissed​​ his cheek. “Everyone​​ deserves at least a kiss on their birthday.”

With her​​ kiss​​ came​​ back many​​ warm memories​​ into Walter’s head​​ of that​​ brief but​​ happier past when he was standing on top of​​ the world​​ instead of​​ crushed​​ beneath it. But that’s right,​​ she was with his​​ enemy:​​ his​​ past, and​​ Walter just couldn’t get​​ past​​ his past.

“But​​ I’m sure​​ you’ve​​ got other things in​​ store​​ for my birthday,”​​ he said.

“Like what?​​ Lola said smirking. “Because if​​ you’re​​ thinking​​ birthday sex,​​ ha, but no.”​​ 

“No. I’m talking about the laundry list​​ of​​ items you’re hoping I will pay courtesy​​ to as soon as you no longer have to pay courtesy​​ to​​ my birthday. I know Lola Roxy​​ and Josepha Gutierrez​​ far​​ too​​ well by now to be bullshitted.”

She​​ cleared her throat. “I do,”​​ she​​ confessed,​​ “but it’s just one​​ item.​​ I’d say we could talk about it tomorrow on the phone, but​​ since​​ you​​ never​​ pick up, I have no option​​ but to disgrace your birthday​​ with it.​​ So you want it now or later?”

“Now.​​ Otherwise I’ll be wondering all night.”

“Fine,” she said, reaching​​ into​​ her​​ purse​​ and​​ pulling​​ out a manila​​ envelope.​​ “Here, you’ve​​ been served.”

“You’re suing me?!”

“I’m sorry, but you left the band and Cirkus no other choice.​​ It’s not like you didn’t see this coming​​ . . .​​ However, there’s​​ another option they’re​​ willing to entertain, and believe me,​​ it’s more than generous on their part.”

“What?”

“They want​​ a​​ farewell​​ show​​ to make a live record.”

Walter​​ laughed.​​ “No,” he said, smacking​​ the crosswalk button at PCH.​​ “No​​ way I’m going​​ back.​​ Quinn Quark is dead​​ for good.”

“That’s fine,” she said. “Because I don’t need him, I need you. I don’t give a shit​​ who you are onstage,​​ Quinn, Axl,​​ Ziggy​​ fucking​​ Stardust.​​ I’m just asking​​ Walter​​ for​​ one fucking show,​​ and maybe three-four rehearsals tops. Is​​ that really​​ something you can’t handle?​​ It’s not like Squids was your best friend. Think of​​ what​​ your bandmates​​ are going through.​​ And if not them, think of what​​ I’m​​ going through.​​ You realize how much​​ of​​ a slap in the face​​ this​​ is​​ to me, right?”

“Why?​​ Because​​ our​​ personal​​ relationship?​​ The way I remembered it, there​​ was a strict divide between​​ our personal and professional relationship.”

Lola closed her eyes and swallowed what looked to be a scream.

“Well...” she said​​ once she composed herself again,​​ “...I​​ guess I broke that rule from the beginning, because I​​ obviously let my personal relationship​​ with you—even before we started fucking—influence my professional one far too much​​ when I put that record deal together​​ for you.​​ Even when the label—along​​ with​​ your own band—pressured me to convince you to​​ rerecord​​ some​​ songs from​​ the​​ EPs, I​​ told them no, to trust you.​​ But​​ here we are,​​ seven months later,​​ after I​​ also​​ convinced the label to​​ let you​​ stay in​​ the​​ house​​ two months longer than they wanted,​​ and​​ you tell me​​ in a fucking text message​​ a week ago​​ that​​ you​​ not only​​ haven’t finished the record, you’re​​ quitting music​​ altogether. Then you have​​ the​​ audacity to just up and​​ ghost me​​ without any explanation. If you can’t see why that’s​​ slapping me in the face, how about​​ you come closer and I’ll put it another way?”​​ 

Walter​​ looked straight ahead​​ and gave no comment​​ as they crossed PCH​​ and rejoined the crowds of the street​​ fair.

I​​ trusted you,” Lola​​ continued, “fought​​ for you,​​ believed in you so​​ goddamn​​ much that​​ I​​ didn’t realize​​ just how​​ much I set myself up to be fucked over​​ by you.​​ But I never fathomed you​​ actually​​ would,​​ because of all things I thought you considered​​ me,​​ a friend would be one of them.​​ But no wonder you​​ complain about​​ having​​ so few​​ real​​ friends​​ Walter​​ if this is how you treat​​ them.”

He remained silent, but instead of looking forward, his head went down.

Lola stopped walking. “Are you really​​ just going to continue to ignore me and say nothing?”​​ she asked.

Walter shrugged. “What do you want me to say?”​​ he​​ replied.

Lola grunted and stomped​​ her black army boot into​​ the ground. “Fucking​​ asshole,” she said. “I​​ guess​​ I’ll just see you in court then.​​ You can ignore​​ me and​​ my phone calls, but you can’t ignore a lawsuit.​​ I won’t intrude on your birthday with yourself any longer​​ . . .​​ BYE!”​​ She​​ then​​ grafted herself into​​ the​​ passing​​ crowds and was gone.

Guilt rose​​ like an upper cut​​ as Walter watched her colorful fin swim away.

“Lola stop!”​​ he​​ cried, and again chased after her.

“Only if you agree​​ to do the show!” she​​ shouted back,​​ her fin still swimming.​​ 

“That’s not fair! Can’t we talk about it?”​​ 

“Oh now you want to talk.​​ It’s too late Walter.​​ There’s nothing else to talk about, unless you’re doing the show.”

“Fine, I’ll do​​ it,” he​​ ceded.​​ She stopped​​ and turned, unable to keep herself from smiling.​​ “But I want you to know,”​​ he​​ said​​ rejoining​​ her,​​ I’m​​ only doing it​​ for​​ you, not the​​ band, the label, or the​​ lawsuit.​​ You’re right. You have been​​ so much more​​ to me​​ than just a friend, and​​ you’re really my only friend​​ other than my grandma.​​ I’m​​ so​​ sorry.​​ I​​ love you​​ Lola.​​ And​​ you know not in an ‘I love you’ sort of way, but in a… well, I’m not sure​​ what kind of way, but I do.

She hung her arms​​ around him. “Yes,” she said, “our​​ kind of​​ love is​​ kind of​​ hard to pin down,​​ isn’t it?​​ But it’s there,​​ somewhere between​​ friends,​​ family,​​ fucking,​​ and​​ business​​ partners​​ . . .​​ I love you too​​ Walter.​​ But also,​​ thank you.​​ I know​​ this isn’t​​ easy​​ for you, believe me.​​ Also,​​ it’s a good thing you’re not doing the show because​​ of the lawsuit. That envelope is mostly blank paper. You can’t serve papers for a case you’re involved in.”

Walter sighed and shook his head.

“You’re turned on, aren’t you?” Lola said noticing some added bulk pressed against her​​ leg.​​ He​​ sighed again and​​ nodded.​​ “You’re a sick freak​​ Mister Huxley, but so am I.​​ I guess that’s why we’ve always​​ worked so well together.”​​ 

“Can you kiss me​​ again?” he asked.

She grinned, then leaned in, her lips hovering over his.​​ “Yes,” she said. “Everyone deserves​​ at least​​ a kiss on their birthday.”

 

Back at Walter’s place​​ on his living room floor,​​ cuddling​​ atop​​ his​​ crippled camping​​ cot​​ which had collapsed under the​​ heft​​ of​​ their​​ lovemaking,​​ he and​​ Lola​​ passed​​ a whiskey bottle​​ and kisses to each other while​​ Night Moves​​ rolled out​​ softly​​ from the radio.​​ He​​ had​​ missed this​​ dearly. Nothing was more healing to a man’s sanity than the soft hold of a woman who knew him well, even if she couldn’t hold him forever.​​ 

“So what are you doing with your life​​ if not music?”​​ Lola​​ asked​​ once the radio went to break.

“Do we really have to​​ talk about​​ this right now?” Walter​​ said.

“Sorry, I can’t get it off my mind.​​ Plus,​​ I​​ think I​​ deserve to know​​ why you’re abandoning the dream I worked so hard to help you​​ reach; the dream you also worked your entire life for.​​ I understand Squids’s death was tragic, especially​​ right​​ after Amber’s, but​​ still,​​ there​​ has to be something else.”

“I​​ just​​ realized rock star is not who I am, okay? Yes, it’s what I thought I wanted to be when I was eleven​​ and what everyone​​ has​​ expected of me​​ since—with​​ the​​ exception of a few college professors, but I didn’t realize being famous would be so...​​ so intrusive​​ on my art.​​ It’s great onstage, but I don’t​​ want​​ onstage following me offstage. I need offstage for​​ life and​​ art.”

“So what, back to physics then?​​ You always said if you weren’t a musician, you’d be a theoretical physicist.”

“No. I​​ want to be a writer.”

“Like a songwriter?”

“No,​​ like an author. I want to write a novel, however,​​ I have no clue​​ where to begin.”

“Then why are you doing it?​​ Because​​ of​​ Amber? Walter,​​ I understand the incredible guilt you feel, but throwing away your dream for hers isn’t going to make​​ your guilt​​ go away.”

“You’re right, and that’s not why​​ I’m doing it—well maybe a little​​ because she was the inspiration.​​ I just​​ realized I’m​​ as much a​​ logician​​ as I am an artist,​​ and I need​​ a medium​​ that can satisfy both, and the only​​ forum​​ that came to mind was​​ a​​ novel.”

“I​​ don’t know. It doesn’t​​ make much sense to me​​ because I’ve never thought of you as a​​ ‘writer’—well, outside of​​ a​​ songwriter. I supposed there might be some crossover. Have you​​ written anything?”

“Just one page.”

“Want to read it to me?”

“I’m not sure. It’s really rough, and I probably won’t even​​ use it​​ for​​ my novel.​​ It’s just​​ an​​ exercise I found online for new writers that’s supposed to stimulate the creative process.​​ You’re supposed to introduce your writing as if it were​​ you, but obviously I’m still trying to figure out who that​​ ‘you’​​ is.”

“Just read it.”

Fine.” Walter got up and went to the kitchen and pulled a​​ gray​​ spiral notebook​​ out of one of the drawers. “It’s called,​​ Who is Walter Huxley?” he said​​ laying back down beside her. He took a​​ few deep​​ breaths​​ before beginning:

“I'm sometimes hard to understand because I unconsciously speak in metaphors. My train of thought​​ talks to me​​ with them and​​ often​​ has to wander​​ in the dirt​​ before it can bloom into meaning, but I promise it always will, there’s just a lot of dirt in my mind.​​ On the rare occasion​​ my​​ train​​ does derail itself from too​​ much momentum​​ or​​ dirt, I apologize for the casualties, but my train was never intended to carry passengers.

“Call me​​ arrogant, promiscuous,​​ sexist,​​ reckless,​​ irrational, contradicting, charlatanic, satanic, insecure, indecisive, self-loathing, self-loving, or just down right confusing, and​​ I’m sure​​ you’d​​ be absolutely​​ correct​​ because at one time or another I probably was. But in choosing an identity one must try on all​​ of​​ life’s​​ available​​ masks.​​ While​​ I try​​ to​​ wear a​​ mask​​ that is always me,​​ often​​ I​​ discover someone may have​​ worn me​​ better before me, and for the sake of sanity, it’s always welcomed to know I’m not alone​​ while looking in the mirror, and always free to break that mirror, for great philosophy lies in the brilliance of broken mirrors, not​​ in the​​ reflections of​​ them. But still, once you piece​​ mirrors​​ back together,​​ mask or not,​​ it’s still​​ only​​ you staring back.

“I am Walter Huxley,​​ and​​ I am​​ one​​ of​​ the loneliest people on​​ Earth; I​​ am​​ a writer.​​ But there’s something sacred in​​ a​​ writer’s loneliness: sanity, hence​​ why so many of us​​ writers​​ end up​​ sacrificing​​ our own for​​ our readers’ sake.”

Walter’s eyes came up from the​​ notebook. The look on​​ Lola’s face was not one of satisfaction or dislike, but confusion. His eyes fled back down.

“It’s horrible!” he cried.​​ “It’s nothing but a clusterfuck of nonsensical narcissism. That’s what you do when something sucks, inject it with ego​​ and​​ lacquer it over with pretentious,​​ meaningless​​ nonsense​​ so​​ nobody can look into​​ it​​ and see the piece of shit it truly is.”

“That’s not true,” Lola said. “Was it nonsensical and narcissistic? A​​ little. But it had moments of​​ great​​ promise​​ too.​​ Regardless, of course you’re going to feel​​ like a failure​​ in the beginning; success is nothing but the accumulation​​ of​​ failure.”

“I know, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been at the beginning​​ of​​ an​​ accumulation, and I just wonder if it’s too late, or if this​​ is​​ a big mistake, but no matter how hard I try​​ to go back, something​​ keeps​​ forcing writer on me.”

The waterworks began​​ at this point​​ and Walter’s voice strained somewhere between a whine and scream—a wheam.

“Two-thousand-twelve​​ just wasn’t supposed to be like this,” he wheamed. “This wasn’t how I imagined​​ my silver year going. This is supposed to be the prime of my life. But there’s nothing prime, silver or bright about the silver anniversary of my life, only​​ unending​​ darkness.​​ But​​ I guess I just like​​ being​​ miserable because every time I manage any sort of stability, I have an irresistible urge to​​ take the legs right out from beneath me.​​ Why​​ do I always do that?​​ Why-why-why-why…”​​ Walter took his injected and lacquered​​ piece of shit​​ from his notebook​​ and began tearing it in a puerile fit.​​ “Why-why-why-why…”

Lola waited until​​ his​​ fit subsided​​ before speaking.​​ “Because​​ maybe​​ silver years are for silver linings,” she said.​​ “But seriously,​​ you need to​​ stop beating yourself up​​ so much.​​ You’ve been​​ left alone inside your head for too long,​​ and like you said, you’re not very friendly to yourself.​​ I think this show will​​ serve as​​ a​​ healthy​​ distraction. Oh!​​ And​​ I​​ completely​​ forgot to tell you​​ because I didn’t think the​​ fake court papers​​ would​​ actually​​ work​​ and I was holding it in my back pocket, but​​ the​​ venue is the last stop of the tour we​​ never made it to.”

“You mean the​​ Berkeley​​ Greek?” The​​ Berkeley​​ Greek​​ was​​ Walter’s​​ favorite music venue.

“Yes sir.​​ And for bass, this studio guy named Jason​​ agreed​​ to​​ fill in, but you might​​ know him from​​ his previous band,​​ Metallica.”

“No!​​ No​​ fucking​​ way!​​ I’m going to be playing​​ with Jason Newstead at The Greek?”

“Yes—that is​​ if you don’t chicken out.”

Unable to contain his joy, Walter​​ stood​​ and began running around​​ the​​ small​​ house​​ with his family jewels​​ flapping​​ openly​​ about.

“Oh Quarky...” Lola said​​ her eyes​​ welling up​​ with tears and laughter​​ “...I can’t tell you how happy​​ this​​ makes me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spirituality of Science

colonoscopy

An obviously very doped-up me after my colonoscopy 

By Bradley Stockwell

To spare you of the intimate details, I’ll just say recently I’ve had some ‘digestive issues’. Two weeks ago I had a colonoscopy to check out these issues. Although I realized the possibility that they may be caused by something serious such as cancer, when my doctor presented me with that reality, it dug in a lot more than I thought. Fortunately, it seems this world is stuck with me a little longer for all my biopsies came out okay. However during the five days in which I had to wait to hear these results, I couldn’t help but contemplate my own mortality and what death means to me as an atheist.

For lack of a better label, I am an atheist but I am not spiritual-less. I find a deep sense of sanctity and humility in the scientific observations of nature. To make clear, this post is not intended to degrade or disprove anyone’s religious faith. The world is richly diverse in beliefs, cultures and opinions and I think that’s a necessary and beautiful thing. What I do have a problem with is the contention surrounding the subject of faith and I in no part want to contribute to it. The reason I love physics so much is it seeks to find unity amongst division and I apply that same philosophy in all facets of my life. Simply, I’m presenting how I sleep at night without believing in a god(s) or an afterlife because it is an honest question I’m frequently asked.

The primary source of my peace of mind comes from the laws of thermodynamics which describes how energy behaves. The first law, the conservation of energy, states energy cannot be created nor destroyed. This law was exampled in a previous post, Flight of The Timeless Photon, on how the photon (aka energy) is transformed from hydrogen proton mass into the life-providing sunshine we all know. The energy we consume, and consequently life, is all sourced from the sun. And the sun’s energy is sourced from the matter within the universe and to find out where the universe’s energy is sourced, we would’ve had to been around during The Big Bang. However according to multiverse theorists, it’s a good chance that it may have come from the matter of a previous universe which was chopped up and scrambled by a black hole into energy. Regardless, the point I’m trying to make is energy is immortal. It is the driver of the circle of life not just here on Earth but in the entire universe. As special as you think you are, you are nothing more than a temporary capsule of mass for energy to inhabit. Death is nothing more than a dispersion of this energy and this is what I take consolation in. When I die, all the energy that was me, my personality—my soul, my body even, still remains in this world. I’m not gone; just less ordered. I am a part of what keeps the arrow of time moving forward as the universe naturally moves from a higher state of order towards a lower—the second law of thermodynamics.

The universe is very cyclical. Life and death are just different stopping points on a grand recycling process. Matter, like our bodies, is created and recycled and energy, like our souls, is immortal and transferred. If you’re familiar with Dharmic beliefs, this probably sounds familiar. It’s funny how the world’s oldest religion, Hinduism, seemed to grasp these concepts thousands of years before science did. While I’m not a practicing Hindu, nor do I plan to be, if forced to choose it would be the closest to my belief system due to the many correlations I find between it and science. One correlation I was most awestruck by was the concept of Brahman to the laws of thermodynamics (aka the laws of energy) mentioned above. According to belief, Brahman is the source of all things in the universe including reality and existence. Everything comes from Brahman and everything returns to Brahman. Brahman is uncreated, external, infinite and all-embracing. You could substitute the word energy for Brahman and get a simple understanding of the applications of the first and second laws of thermodynamics.

If you can’t fathom the thought of an afterlife as some form of your current self, I can understand that. Once again I’m not here to convince you differently, I’m just presenting my viewpoint. However in regards to the value of life, I do hope to convince you that there is no deeper appreciation than through the eyes of science. I only stress this to debunk the perpetuated myth that science somehow devalues the beauty of this world by picking it apart. Once again, the reason I love physics is it widens the perspective of my existence through unifying the universe’s many diverse creations and movements. It connects me to the infinitely larger cosmos above yet also to the infinitely smaller universes below. I have an atomic connection to the stars, a chemical connection to the earth, a biological connection to life and a genetic connection to my fellow humans. When you see the world on so many dimensions, I can personally attest that suddenly everything becomes very interesting. Even the things we don’t give much thought to, like sunshine, weather, the way in which water ripples, or why your friend’s beer overflows when you smack the top of it with yours, become regularly appreciated with a new sense of awe and curiosity. The world becomes much more absorbing than anything a smartphone or television can provide and you find yourself wanting to experience everything it can offer. There’s no greater feeling than the intercourse between knowledge and experience. This perspective is perfectly captured by one of my idols, the great physicist Richard Feynman.

 “I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”

When I finally do say goodbye to this world, I hope my friends and family will realize this is not actually the case. Everything that was me is still very much a part of this world, just partaking in a different dimension of it. The energy contained within my body will go back into the earth so that it can provide new life to the flora and fauna which kept me alive as I dined on them throughout my own life. Every joule of energy that was me will be released back into this world to live life anew. And will the unique combination of matter the winds of energy deposited as Bradley Stockwell be forgotten? Well I hope I will have done something impactful enough to be remembered by history, but if not, I can always depend on my beloved light particle, the photon, to ensure my existence will mean something. Explained in detail in my previous post, A Crash Course in Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, according to relative velocity time dilation, the photon’s existence is timeless relative to ours because it moves at the speed of light. A funny thing happens to time at the speed of light—it ceases to exist, at least relative to our perception of time. That is of course until I interrupt this so-called photon’s path by absorbing it as heat and become that photon’s entire existence; forever altering the universe. And this is not the only way the photon will preserve my existence. I of course don’t absorb all the photons I come into contact with—some of them bounce off me and are collected in the photon detectors (aka the eyes) of my friends and family members. These photons then create electromagnetically charged webs of neurons, better known as memories. Well until next time, stay curious my friends!